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'Voices from Afghanistan' Visitors Discuss Exhibit

Mary Jane Deeb of the Library of Congress describes 'Voices from Afghanistan' with RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin (right) and Michael Novak
It's been nearly a month since RFE/RL's "Voices from Afghanistan" exhibit opened at the Library of Congress, and Kim Curry, who led the effort to put it together, is pleased with the results.

"This exhibit is unique in that we assembled it in less than three months," she said, citing Librarian of Congress James Billington's enthusiasm for the project as the reason for the short timetable.

"The Library has been collecting materials from this part of the world for hundreds of years," she said. "The main thing we hoped to accomplish with this exhibit is to show that the fan mail RFE/RL's Afghan service (Radio Azadi) receives are part of a centuries-long tradition of letter and scroll writing. They help us kind of bring our collections up to date."

We went to the Library to collect some comments from people as they exited the exhibit:
Visitors read and discuss the letters to Radio Azadi

Patricia Sullivan, a tourist from Atlanta, found in the letters a reason for optimism. "I was especially pleased to hear that the people are writing, that they're engaging -- mostly the young people," she said. But the exhibit also reminded her of the tough questions still to be addressed in Afghanistan: "My question is: Is America really coordinating and are we really following through? Or are we merely doing a military presence and maybe not communicating correctly to help and address the people's needs?" [Listen to her full remarks]

Emily Cohen, who was visiting the Library with a tour group from Rochester, N.Y., was impressed by the artistic qualities of the letters. She was particularly amazed that such young people can write in such elaborate styles. "I think it's cool to see faces and names, and letters and stories from things that you hear about on the news," she said. [full remarks]

A man visiting from the Netherlands, but originally from Nepal, said he was not surprised at all that Afghans use RFE/RL's Radio Azadi as a way to make their voices heard. Ratna Pandit said the exhibit reminds him of what it was like in his country
I think it's cool to see faces and names, and letters and stories from things that you hear about on the news.
during Nepal's decade-long civil war that began in 1996. "During the war and during troubled times...the only way of finding or getting information is by radio or newspaper, and [the exhibit] shows all this," he said. "Especially remote places, there's no other means of information." [full remarks]

For her part, the Library of Congress' Curry finds the courage of the Afghan letter-writers inspiring: "I made the assumption they were living with war around them, and that war reached into every part of their lives - the terror and the fear. But no, these letters show that they try to put order and meaning in their lives. They also show that they try to put beauty and culture into their lives." [full remarks]

"Voices from Afghanistan" is on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., through May 2010.

--Abby Holekamp